Home-Care Workers: Unions fight for a living wage FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 6 Mar 1999 14:24:58 -0800 (PST)

Home-care is one of the few kinds of work sometimes available to homeless
and poor people with limited connections, training and work histories.  So,
I forward the related article below for your review and comments:


Los Angeles Times
Thursday, March 4, 1999

Unions Fight to Lift Pay for LAX Workers
Labor: Despite a city ordinance, many are still denied a 'living wage.'
Organizers are trying to change that.
By NANCY CLEELAND, Times Staff Writer

Fresh from success in their decade-long fight to represent 74,000 county
home-care workers, Los Angeles labor leaders are hunkering down for what
promises to be another long and hard-fought campaign, this time to sign up
thousands of low-wage workers at Los Angeles International Airport.
The Respect at LAX campaign, spearheaded by two aggressive and fast-
growing unions with help from community and religious leaders, and partially
bankrolled by the AFL-CIO, aims to increase pay for about 8,000 security
workers, food handlers, janitors and parking lot attendants who now earn
below the city-sanctioned "living wage" of $7.39 an hour plus benefits.
Yet after nearly a year of effort and only a few modest victories, the
campaign has run into stiff resistance from several employers and is moving
slowly in negotiations with others. Only about 1,000 janitors and food
concession workers, all of whom were already unionized, have received raises
so far.
In an effort to jump-start those negotiations, and to underscore the
national significance of the campaign, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney will
meet with security and food concession workers at the airport Friday morning
before leading a rally near the Airport Commission office.
If anyone understands the frustrations of slow-moving union drives, it
is Sweeney. As president of the Service Employees International Union in the
late 1980s, he was instrumental in launching the campaign for home-care
workers, who care for homebound elderly and disabled clients.
The unionization of home-care workers under SEIU, achieved just last
week, required county and state legislation and pulled in supporters from
outside the labor movement with its message of economic justice.
It also took years of patient footwork. "That campaign is an indication
of how organizing is not easy and how we're in this for the long term,"
Sweeney said Wednesday from his office in Washington. "The changes that
we're making now are really investments for the future. And you're seeing
that at the airport. It's another example of a major center of organization."
Since taking the helm of the umbrella AFL-CIO, Sweeney has pushed
unions to devote more resources to organization drives, to reach out to
women, ethnic minorities and immigrants, to network with other community
groups and to capitalize on political victories they may have had a hand in.
As a start, the AFL-CIO itself pledged a third of its budget--about $30
million a year--to organizing.
Few regions have taken Sweeney's message to heart as enthusiastically
as Los Angeles, where the County Federation of Labor--which itself is
spending about $500,000 a year on organizing--estimates unions now employ
about 250 professional field organizers.
A cornerstone of the efforts here is the airport campaign. In many
ways, Respect at LAX mirrors the home-care drive. Focused on low-wage
service workers, primarily Latino immigrants and African Americans, it has
attracted a broad range of supporters, including public officials and
religious leaders.  And one of the unions leading the drive is SEIU; the
other is the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union.
The effort also has built on legislation, in this case a city ordinance
that set a "living wage" for employees of companies with city contracts or
licenses. That wage is now set at $7.39 an hour plus benefits. The Los
Angeles City Council in November explicitly included airport leases in the
living wage requirement, and two weeks ago, the Airport Commission
officially adopted it.
And yet about 8,000 workers still earn less than the living wage, said
Vivian Rothstein, coordinator for the Respect for LAX campaign. "I think
people heard about the ordinance and thought that was it. It was settled,"
she said. "But we still have a lot of work ahead of us."
Workers do not automatically gain the higher wage under the ordinance.
Rather, it takes effect as leases and contracts come up for renewal. Some
contracts, such as one covering workers in the Delta terminal, are not set
to be renegotiated until 2025, said Rothstein.
In what has been the most contentious fight to date, about 800
pre-board screeners--security workers who check baggage for weapons--have
asked to join the SEIU but have encountered resistance from Argenbright
Inc., their Atlanta- based employer. The workers are now paid the $5.75 per
hour minimum wage, with no benefits, sick days or vacation days. Sweeney is
scheduled to meet with Argenbright workers before the rally.
They are just the sort of potential union members the national labor
movement has been targeting.
"What we see on a national level seems to be telescoped in Los Angeles,
where we have the capacity and the political will to do it, and a strategy
to go after certain targets like LAX," said Kirk Adams, AFL-CIO organizing
director. "It really is a strategic part of the world. If you don't do it in
L.A., you ain't gonna get it done."


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